The conversation surrounding John Hayden over the next year will be interesting. The forward slots in No. 9 on our Top 25 Under 25 list, but as he enters his senior year at Yale University, his future with the Blackhawks is murky. If he has a monster year, will he pull a Jimmy Vesey and pursue free agency? The circumstances make Hayden one of the most interesting guys to watch in the system this year.
Birth date: Feb. 14, 1995
Acquired via: Third round pick (No. 74 overall) in 2013 NHL Draft
Most recent stop: Yale University
Size: 6’3, 223 pounds
You'd probably be hearing a lot about Hayden right now if he had signed with the Blackhawks this summer. Instead, the forward passed on the team's contract offer in favor of returning to Yale for his senior season. He's said he still plans to sign with Chicago next spring, but you never know whether he'll feel the same way once he's just a few months from free agency.
On the ice, Hayden might already be close to ready for a bottom-six role in the NHL. He's got the frame, physicality and enough skill. As a junior at Yale, he recorded 16 goals and seven assists in 32 games. Now he's going to be the captain of the Bulldogs as a senior. Even if there's not top-six forward upside because he's not a particularly good playmaker, the combination of size, defensive potential and finishing ability make him an exciting talent. It's hard not to look at Hayden and picture Bryan Bickell on a good day.
Of course, there's some uncertainty over his future with the Hawks whether anyone would like to admit it or not. Hayden got a contract offer from Chicago this summer and chose not to sign it. He's less than a year from free agency. While both sides say they're still confident a deal will get done, that's precisely what everyone always says at this point in the process. Fans should be prepared, on some level, for the possibility that Hayden has a change of heart and decides to hit the market. Especially if he has a monster senior year like Vesey did.
But the Hawks remain in the driver's seat with Hayden either way, and if he does sign next spring, the team may have a new bottom-six forward ready to install for the 2017-18 season. With the team's books not getting any less complicated in the coming years, guys like Hayden who could potentially contribute on their entry-level deals will make or break this team's ability to compete.
What's next in 2016-17
Hayden will look to continue polishing his game as the captain at Yale before deciding on his future in the spring. The Hawks will be able to exclusively negotiate with him until August 16, 2017, when their draft rights will expire. The signs still point towards Hayden signing with Chicago long before that date, but if he passes again next year, the Hawks will end up empty-handed. Unlike with former first-rounder Kevin Hayes, there's no compensation for a third-round pick signing elsewhere as a free agent.
Second City Hockey's Top 25 Under 25 rankings
No. 9: John Hayden
No. 10: Mark McNeill
No. 11: Fredrik Olofsson
No. 12: Chad Krys
No. 13: Erik Gustafsson
No. 14: Luke Johnson
No. 15: Tanner Kero
No. 16: Artur Kayumov
No. 17: Carl Dahlstrom
No. 18: Dennis Gilbert
No. 19: Luc Snuggerud
No. 20: Robin Norell
No. 21: Robin Press
No. 22: Dylan Sikura
No. 23: Graham Knott
No. 24: Anthony Louis
No. 25: Roy Radke
Honorable mentions: Radovan Bondra, Joni Tuulola, Mathias From, John Dahlstrom, Lucas Carlsson